by Anna Manning
The views on how North Carolina should select its judges are sharply divergent among political leaders – both today and in 1868.
Because debate on judicial selection has many sides, the John Locke Foundation is holding a special panel event at the Campbell Law School on May 7th from 11:30-1:00 for four panelists to discuss the best ways for North Carolina to select judges to ensure a skilled and sound justice system. Lunch is included, purchase your ticket here.
John Hood wrote an article for Carolina Journal that compared these divergent attitudes of delegates to the North Carolina Constitutional Convention in 1868 to those of political leaders today. The delegates eventually settled on popular election of judges, but the way judges are selected in North Carolina is still just as big of an issue now as it was then.
Then Beaufort County attorney, William Blount Rodman, said that North Carolina should have the governor appoint judges, subject to state senate confirmation, like federal judges. He voiced concern that even well-meaning voters do not have much knowledge on the job performance of judges.
“While the legislative and executive branches of a government ought to be elected by popular vote, because they represent “will” and the sovereignty” of the people, respectively, “judges represent neither, but only the justice of the government,” Rodman said.
When judges are elected, he argued, they rise or fall based on their popularity rather than their knowledge of the law. “The judiciary should be proof to any temptation,” he warned, “for not infrequent popular clamor has denounced an honest judge for the fearless enforcement of the law, when afterwards, at cooler moments, candid men have confessed a higher respect for him.”
Albion W. Tourgee, of Guilford County, disagreed with Rodman and believed that judges should be elected and, in his experience, election had produced knowledgeable, fair, and just jurors.
“If “the people were best able to govern themselves,” he said, if they “were competent to choose officers to make and execute the laws,” then surely they were “competent to choose officers to interpret the laws.”
He added that the potential for corruption exists no matter how a state picks its judges, but it would be greater and more dangerous to the public interest if governors or state legislators, the frequent targets of “notorious bargains and sales,” were the ones doing the picking.”
Washington County politician, E.W. Jones had yet another view to offer at the convention in 1868 and believed that the General Assembly should pick judges for the state.
“Popular election has “a tendency to lower the standard of integrity and public virtue” as well as the “intellectual qualifications and talent to fill this office,” Jones said. As for governors selecting the judges, he thought it constituted too much “consolidation of power in the hands of any one man.” Legislators, Jones concluded, would be less likely to abuse the power of judicial appointment than governors would.”
The panel event is sure to be insightful and informative. We hope you will join us on May 7th!